Occupational therapists help people cope with and overcome their physical, mental, and social problems linked to illness or disability.
The term occupational refers in this context, to any way that people spend their time, such as: personal care (dressing, washing, shopping, etc.), working or studying, housework and free time .
They work with a very wide range of patients, including:
- People who have suffered accidents.
- People who are recovering from an operation.
- Elderly, for example, if they are weak, or if they are recovering from a stroke or suffer from arthritis, for example.
- People with physical or learning disabilities.
- People with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
First, occupational therapists have to assess their patients, focusing not only on the patient’s physical health, but also on their mental health and emotional well-being.
This assessment helps you understand the patient’s capabilities, feelings, degree of independence, and potential ambitions and capabilities. The occupational therapist focuses on the potential capabilities of the patient rather than on achievements that may be difficult to achieve.
It analyzes the general needs of the patient, working with him, and also with his family or caregivers, in collaboration with professionals such as physiotherapists, social workers and doctors.
Then he and the patient work together to decide what skills or abilities the patient needs to develop to reach their full potential. The occupational therapist defines an intervention plan based on the patient’s needs and expectations.
Since occupational therapy meets all the needs of the patient, it can take place anywhere the patient needs help, for example, at home, in the hospital or at work.
They visit patients in their homes, to advise them on the changes that are pending in terms of household items that allow them to lead an easier and more comfortable autonomous life. For example, adjusting toilet seats or work surfaces can allow the elderly to live at home safely.
They can also offer additional support to patients (for example, setting up nurse visits and home care services).
If a person has had an accident or stroke, they may need to relearn basic everyday life skills, such as washing and cooking.
Helping the patient to feed himself may require teaching him to use adapted cutlery, specially designed for one-handed use, or planning meals to get the patient interested in cooking again.
They help patients to return to work, for example after an operation or period of stress. They can plan role plays to improve their patients’ ability to cope with situations they may encounter at work.
Occupational therapists often support people with mental health problems in their own homes. The patient may need treatment for acute anxiety or depression, which may be the cause that prevents them from going to work. They help patients come up with a list of daily goals that is realistic. Treatment could consist of practicing work-related skills or developing assertiveness.
Occupational therapy can be individualized or in a group. Group activities can be good for developing communication skills, self-confidence, and social skills.
The occupational therapist is responsible for planning, organizing, and executing therapy programs. They can supervise occupational therapy assistants in supporting the patient and organizing activities.
These professionals work in many areas, including social care, mental health, education, and learning disabilities. They may specialize in areas such as substance abuse, eating disorders, children, and the elderly.
Apart from social security, they work in charities, residences, government agencies and voluntary organizations, schools and universities among others.